Project Canterbury

In Rubber Lands
An Account of the Work of the Church in Malaya

Edited by C.E. Ferguson-Davie, M.D., B.S.

London: The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1921.

Chapter II. Work amongst Europeans and Eurasians

As early as the fifteenth century intercourse between Europe and the Malay Peninsula (the "Golden Chersonese" as the travellers of those days called it) first began. The fabled riches of gold and minerals, and the actual products of spices and condiments were the attraction to those early adventurers. But though "for 400 years Europeans dwelt at one or two points on the western coast, they were content to remain on the fringe of the Peninsula, and it is a noteworthy fact that sixty years ago there was only one white man resident in the interior "lying between Singapore on the southern extremity and Bangkok in the north."

It was under the leadership of the famous Admiral Albuquerque that the Portuguese, who in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries built up such a widespread empire, first landed on Malayan soil and established themselves in Malacca. The picturesque gateway of Albuquerque's fort and the ruins of the Portuguese church on the hill overlooking the harbour still remain to bear witness to the period of Portuguese rule. On the southern wall of that church a small tablet records that the body of St. Francis Xavier, the first missionary to Malaya, was brought from China, where he had died and his body had been embalmed, and was buried in this church. The body was subsequently transferred to Goa, the first scene of his missionary labours, where it lies, enclosed in a silver shrine, in the handsome church attached to the monastery of St. Francis, in the now deserted city of Old Goa.

The next race of adventurers to seek the treasures of the Far East were the Dutch, who, about the middle of the seventeenth century, dispossessed the Portuguese and made themselves masters of Malacca, for it is in Malacca that the historical interest of the country centres; compared with it the now better known and more prosperous settlements of Singapore and Penang are but of modern growth.

Much, still remains to mark the period of Dutch ascendancy. The walls of the massively built fort, the substantial Stadt-haus, the church, now used for the services of the Anglican Church, are all in complete preservation; while even the streets, with their names of Heeren Street and Junker Street, remind us of their former inhabitants. So also do the names of many of the resident families--the Baumgartens, the Minjoots, and others; while the D'Almeidas and da Souzas take us back to the times of the Portuguese. To quote again from the Malayan Information Agency--"The Portuguese and Dutch pioneers of Western civilization in the Far East did nothing to develop the resources of the country. Whatever development took place between the first contact of Europeans with the country and the latter part of the nineteenth century was due to the industry and enterprise of adventurous Chinese, who mined gold and tin in a rough and ready fashion and lived in .a state of society bordering on anarchy. It was not till after 1873, when the British Colonial authorities intervened in the internal affairs, that order was evolved out of chaos and the real government of the country was established on a firm and lasting basis."

The rise of British influence in the Malay Peninsula was very gradual. Owing to the growth of their trade with China it became of importance to the East India Company to possess a station in the Malay Archipelago, and they, therefore, commissioned their agents to look out for a suitable harbour and to take steps to acquire it. In this quest Mr. Light was successful. He negotiated with the Sultan of Kedah for the cession of Penang Island, and on August 11th, 1786, hoisted the British flag in that place. About ten years later Malacca was taken by the British from the Dutch, but it was not till 1824 that we finally retained possession of it. Meanwhile, another far-sighted empire builder had seen the necessity for a port in the south of the Peninsula, and in 1819 Sir Stamford Raffles, on behalf of the East India Company, took possession of Singapore, which was ceded to him by the Sultan of Johore. It was considerably later that British influence spread from these settlements to the Malay States. Owing to internal difficulties their rulers on different occasions applied for aid from the British power, and in 1896 the four Protected States were united into a Federation and brought into formal relation with the British Empire.

Since those early days the flow of Europeans eastward has been continuous; at first in small numbers for purposes of trade, shipping, tin mining, or coffee planting, and during the last twenty years, which have seen the rise and development of the rubber planting industry, in much larger numbers.

The total population of British Malaya, as shown by the census of 1911 (now nearly ten years ago), was 2,659,262, and was made up as follows:--

The Straits Settlements 722,075
The Federated Malay States 1,036,999
The Non-federated States 900,188

This population is made up of Europeans, Eurasians, Malays, Chinese, and Indians, with a small admixture of other races. The number of Europeans is given as 10,500, but will probably be considerably larger at the next census.

In the larger towns the Europeans are engaged principally in business houses and in professional life, but there are besides this numerous planters and communities of planters scattered throughout the country, chiefly on the western side of the Peninsula, but now in increasing numbers even in the less developed districts of the eastern coast. The Eurasians number slightly more than the Europeans (10,600), and are mostly resident in the towns, engaged in all manner of pursuits, and sometimes rising to high positions in professional or other walks of life. Of first importance from the point of view of the Church in Malaya is the provision for the spiritual needs of the British who come to the East to plant, to trade, or to mine; and of the Eurasians, born in the country, speaking our tongue and sharing our faith. For the latter the question of education is also a pressing one, as their children are for the most part educated in the country and only a very few are able to proceed to Europe for higher studies. This question of education, as it concerns the Church, will be discussed in a subsequent chapter. The number of Asiatic Christians in the Malay Peninsula exceeds, however, the combined Europeans and Eurasians, being 29,000. The care of these, therefore, occupies much of the time and thought of all clergy working in the country.

The Diocese of Singapore includes not only the Malay Peninsula, but also "the British residents in Siam, Java, Sumatra, and the adjacent islands." The needs of all these have, therefore, to be considered in arranging for the work of those clergy who minister principally to the English-speaking community. The word "principally" is used advisedly, for all clergy take some part, more or less according to the conditions of the district in which they are working, in ministering to Asiatics. The number of priests available for the work has been seriously reduced by the war, when new workers could not come out to fill the vacancies that inevitably occurred; but the normal staff for this "European" work may be taken to be--in Singapore five priests, including one port chaplain and one chaplain to the forces; one each in Malacca and Penang, in Java, Sumatra, and Siam; six in the Federated Malay States and one travelling chaplain--a total of seventeen. The work to be done in .Singapore itself is very varied; the cathedral requires a staff of three if the work is to be really overtaken, and there is also the daughter Church of St. Matthew, which for a long time back has had no priest in charge. Johore Bahru, on the adjacent mainland, is visited from Singapore, and it is hoped to build, at no very distant date, new churches both there and at Tanjong Katong, five miles along the sea coast east of Singapore. The site for the latter has already been given. Work amongst the sailors who visit the port of Singapore is greatly needed, and though taken up from time to time, there has never been a priest available to make this his permanent charge. The following is an account given by the last chaplain who was able to give his time to this branch of the work (report for 1919):--

"As port chaplain I just began to get an insight into what might be a vast work. On the first ship I visited (in fear and trembling, wondering what would befall me) I received such a welcome as would have cheered the veriest faint-heart who ever worked for God. It took me three hours to get off that ship, and I left with the unsolicited promises of some five or six men to come to the Eucharist at the cathedral the following morning. As a matter of fact only two came, but the rest would have come had there not been a strike of the firemen on board the ship, which upset everything. From that time forward (for the six months I was at the work I never regretted a visit to a ship, and I was almost invariably welcomed with the greatest heartiness. I have arrived at the definite conclusion that the seafaring man may not be a great Churchman, but he has a great regard for God and respects and welcomes the ministers of His Church. With all the ships, both local and deep sea, in and out of Singapore, there should most certainly be a man giving his whole time to this work and living somewhere in the neighbourhood of the docks."

Several of the chaplains--e.g., in Penang--have the oversight of Chinese or Tamil congregations in addition to their work amongst Europeans; in other places there are Asiatic priests in charge of the Christians of their own race. Nearly all, especially in the Federated Malay States, have out-stations to visit at considerable distances from their centre, where, sometimes in small churches, sometimes in a club or a private house, services are held for the benefit of the planters and others scattered in all parts of the country. A travelling chaplain is much needed to visit the more distant of these outlying places, such, for instance, as those on the east coast, where no chaplain is stationed. His work would be full of interest and variety, and all who have taken part in it speak of the welcome which they always receive from those whom they visit in this way.

This is well shown in the following extract from an account of one of these visits to the east coast:--

"Experiences such as these linger long in the memory. They are, full of refreshment. My heart warms at the thought of the kindly hearted people in this lonely valley, who, Churchmen and non-Churchmen alike, extended such a ready welcome to the minister of Christ. It would only be the simple truth to say that I should feel abundantly satisfied with the belief that my visit there had conveyed to them one half of the help and encouragement which it did to me. I was there as one who received; they were the givers--often, maybe, unconsciously, which is the best kind of giving--of many good things without money and without price. In another sense also they were givers, for they raised between them a generous contribution of $78 for the Medical Mission at Malacca. One is happy to think that theirs, too, is the special blessing--'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"

Another, telling of a visit to Kelantan, at the north-east corner of the Peninsula, writes as follows:--

"During my visit I had held nine services, and the persons who attended one or more of them numbered fifty-six, while fourteen made their Communion. I cannot thank sufficiently my kind hosts and hostesses, and I much appreciated the kind welcome extended to a stranger. Many things stand out in my mind--the night journey up to Kuala Krai; calling at the little station rafts; trumpeting our approach; the only visible sign of life a light moving quickly down to the river bank; the bag containing the longed for home mail handed over to the watchman, the same to be hurried up to the manager's bungalow; then on to the next station, with darkness all about us and no sound but the working of the motor engine. Next the setting of that bungalow at Kuala Pergau, particularly as you approach it and see the black silhouette of Bukit Setang in the fading light of evening. Passing over many others, let me recall, in conclusion, that strange figure of the Tungku Bada at Kota Bahru. He is a brother of the Sultan and claims anything he lays his hands on, saying 'Bada' over it. It all suggests a fairy tale. He laid his royal hand on nothing of mine, so I forfeited nothing. A truly strange prerogative even for royalty. The twentieth century! Yes, but this is well off the beaten track! Such things will pass and some will regret them, and one of these will be the Tungku Bada."

The Dutch Indies--Java and Sumatra.--As has been already mentioned, the British residents in the Dutch Indies are included in the charge of the Bishop of Singapore. A chaplain is stationed in Java, and it has long been the hope of the Bishop to station one also in Sumatra, but owing to the shortage of men this has never yet been possible. The Dutch Indies are islands of great beauty and of marvellous fertility owing to the volcanic dust mingled with their soil. Besides rice they produce sugar, tea, coffee, tobacco (principally in Sumatra), quinine, rubber, pepper and spices, rattan cane and teak wood, as well as other commodities of less importance.

Java is an island 600 miles long lying parallel with the equator, and roughly 50,000 square miles in area. Its population has grown from about 3,000,000 in 1800 to 32,000,000 to-day. Of these 20,000 are Europeans (principally, of course, Dutch), 400,000 Chinese, and the rest the native inhabitants--Javanese, Malay, Soudanese, &c. "The early culture of Java can be traced to India, and many remnants of ancient edifices and relics of Hindu and Buddhist worship are still to be seen--such as the Hindu temple at Brambanan, where giant sculptured figures guard the doors." The most famous of the remains is the Boro-Boedoer, the temple of the "many Buddhas." This marvellous edifice of the ninth century, built in pure Buddhist style, consists of galleries built over the top of a hill, each gallery being covered with most elaborate carvings illustrating the life of the Buddha. This temple, which had been overwhelmed by volcanic dust, was laid bare during the British occupation of Java. Besides the dialects in use in Java, the ancient classic language is still known to scholars. "In this language, called Kawi, the date and origin of which are uncertain, fables, poems, records, and inscriptions on stone were written. The acting of these poems, narrating the mythological and fabulous doings of Hindu heroes, accompanied by the music of the gamalan, is still extremely popular."! In the fifteenth century the Mohammedan invasion overthrew the Hindu empire of Majapahit, and now nearly one-sixth of the Mohammedan world is to be found in the island; but though Mohammedans, the people are as ignorant and superstitious as any heathen people. "The ignorance and immorality, superstitious fatalism, and fanaticism which so often characterize Mohammedan lands are to be found here also. Arab teachers constantly visit and travel through Java, and thousands of pilgrims annually make the prescribed pilgrimage to Mecca--the Hadji on his return being an eager defender of his faith." For the conversion of this people our Church is at present doing nothing, but Dutch and German Missions have been at work there for many years, and since 1905 the Methodist Episcopal Church of America has established a strong and growing Mission in a number of centres throughout the country. So long as we have only one chaplain in the island it is impossible for him to do more than minister to the British residents there. Towards the western end of the island is situated the capital, Batavia, where the chaplain makes his head-quarters, as it contains the only English church in the country. About 180 Britishers are to be found there and about an equal number at Sourabaya, towards the eastern end, where a church is much needed. Samarang, between the two, and Banjawangi, at the extreme eastern end of the island (a station of the Eastern Extension Telegraph Co.), have smaller numbers, and others again are scattered in small groups on plantations in every part of Java. It is easy to imagine how much travelling is necessary in order that the chaplain may visit in turn all these his scattered parishioners. He describes his work in a report, from which the following extract is taken (February, 1918):--

"Looking back through the register for 1917, it appears that during the past year there have been sixty-eight celebrations of the Holy Communion and one hundred other services of one kind or another held in Java by the chaplain. This does not include sixteen baptisms and two weddings; neither does it include the regular Sunday Evensong in Batavia taken by Mr. Keen in the absence of the chaplain. This is really extraordinarily little when one realizes how scattered the British population is and takes into account Holy Week, &c., and the fact that when the chaplain is in Batavia there are four services every Sunday. We want at least one more chaplain, and we want a nice little church in Sourabaya instead of that ugly room in the Masonic Hall."

The island of Sumatra, 1,100 miles long by 250 miles broad, lies to the west of the Malay Peninsula, and is separated from it by the Straits of Malacca. A chain of lofty mountains runs down its entire length nearer the western than the eastern border, and only the land to the east of this is opened up to any large extent. Its population does not approach that of Java, being only about 4,000,000, of whom 5,000 are Europeans; amongst these are 300 Britishers engaged in planting tobacco and rubber, side by side with the Dutch. In the fifteenth century Sumatra came under Mohammedan influence; the traces of the former Hindu civilization in buildings or ruins, though numerous, are less important than those in Java. There are, however, some tribes, such as the Battaks, which have never become Mohammedan, and amongst these the Dutch and German Missions have had considerable success.

Sumatra is the reputed home of the Malay race, and Raffles speaks as follows of his visit to Menangkabu, "the ancient capital of the Malayan kingdom. We here found," he says, "the wreck of a great empire, the evident source whence all the Malay colonies now scattered over the Archipelago first sprang. To me it is quite classic ground." Sumatra was taken by the Dutch in 1667, and in 1685 the British established a footing at Bencoolen, a beautiful spot on the south-west coast, where later Sir Stamford Raffles had his residence as the representative of England. This close neighbourhood with the Dutch was, however, the cause of considerable friction, so that it was a wise arrangement by which, in 1825, this settlement was handed over to the Dutch in exchange for Malacca. Until Sumatra can have an English "padre" of its own it has to be visited quarterly from the Federated Malay States, and the following is an extract from the account of one such tour recently undertaken (1919):--

"My next spell of itinerant work was the longest and the most interesting of any during the year. On June 16th I sailed for Belawan-Deli. Twelve months had passed since my last visit to the east coast of Sumatra. On this occasion I was able to pay a personal call on nearly all the British residents of Medan. The Dutch Reformed minister, as usual, kindly allowed me the use of his church and we had English services at Medan on two Sundays, June 22nd and 29th. Between those dates I had visited three other districts, holding services at Tandjong Bringin, Brahrang, and Begerpang. Those who were able to attend were most grateful to receive once more the ministrations of the Church. News reached Medan on June 29th that the Treaty of Peace had at last been signed, and in the evening a great thanksgiving-service was held, at which practically the whole of the British community and not a few friends of other nationalities were present. On July 1st I left for the Sumatra tea district of Siantar and held a service at a private bungalow, when two children were baptized."

Siam.--The work of the Church of England is at the present time carried on regularly only in Bangkok, the capital, although the Presbyterians have many Mission stations in other parts of the country. Bangkok is a wonderful city, often called "the Venice of the East" on account of its numerous water-ways, little canals (called klongs} leading off in all directions from the great river, the Menan, or "Mother of Waters," on the sides of which the town is built.

The Siamese are Buddhists, and in all directions may be seen the wats or temples erected as a work of merit by the religiously minded. Very brilliant and ornate are they shining in the sun and reflected in the water, and some are really beautiful throughout, but others appear somewhat tawdry on a nearer view.

Work in Siam was begun and carried on for many years by Canon Greenstock. There are now two priests in Bangkok--one in charge of the English congregation at Christ Church, in the European suburb; the other at St. Mary's Mission, in the city, where also English services are held for those who live in that neighbourhood. The chief activity of the Mission is a large and growing school for girls of all races, with a smaller branch for boys. The school now numbers some 130 children, of whom seventy are boarders. Having outgrown the building in which it is at present housed, a' new site has recently been acquired, on which a school will in course of time be erected. There is a large Eurasian element in the population of Bangkok and the school is doing most valuable work amongst these children.

In the north of Siam there is a considerable number of Englishmen working in the teak forests, and these were visited last Christmas for the first time by a priest of the Church of England, when the Rev. and Mrs. Simmons made an expedition to Chengmai, and he was able to hold services for them in several centres. It is hoped that now that the means of communication are less difficult than formerly, such a visit may become at least an annual event.

The following are extracts from Mr. Simmons' account of the tour in North Siam:--

"Our first purpose was to get to Nakon Lampang, the end of the second day's railway journey from Bangkok. We arrived there on the evening of December 23rd.....

"We visited the club on Christmas Eve and introductions began. It was arranged that we should have a Celebration at 7.30 and Mattins at 10.20 on Christmas morning. I was the first Anglican padre to visit the north, so this was the first celebration of Holy Communion according to the use of the Church of England there had ever been up there. The boys from the village school came at 5 a.m. and sang carols under our window and then we began to get about. Wasn't it cold? Our teeth chattered and we needed all the warm clothes we had with us. If there had been snow outside it would have seemed perfectly natural.

"Missionary work is more encouraging among the Laos than it is in the south; but it is a very slow, patient work in any part of this kingdom.

"On January 5th we left Lampang for Chieng Mai.....We were in Chieng Mai for a month altogether. On our first Sunday there we had a service (Mattins) in the Consulate at 10 a.m. All the Britishers were present. On our third Sunday I celebrated the Eucharist in the Consulate at 8 a.m.--there were three communicants--and that; same evening we had Evensong in the American Mission Church. The missionaries were very anxious to come. On the other Sundays we were taken over to services in the villages outside Chieng Mai by the American missionaries. It was very interesting to see this village work. We gained quite a new impression of the people, who were very devout and earnest. One of the churches we visited was called Bethlehem. It was a kind of harvest thanksgiving, and the poor village people were making a special offering. Some of them had no money to offer, but they brought baskets of paddy (rice) and presented that.....

"The great charm of Chieng Mai is its beauty and the pleasant contrast it affords to the alluvial plain which surrounds Bangkok. There are hills, valleys, and mountain streams. The jungle is all around you with its alluring air of mystery. You hear of panthers and tigers; you see elephants quite commonly. You are amid a great variety of interesting peoples. You see Karens and Musos and Burmese; you see Haws travelling in caravans of pack mules, going to and fro between the interior of China and Burma and Middle Siam.....

"So ended our visit to the north. We had been able to visit most of our lonely brethren whose lives are spent in the forest; we had seen something of the work of the American missionaries; we had seen the beautiful north country with its interesting people and its picturesque scenery, the mountains and streams and woods; and we had had a rest from our busy life in Bangkok in really cold weather--48 degrees is cold out here. As we look back upon this journey we cannot but feel very deep and real gratitude that it was made possible for us to spend six and a half weeks so profitably and enjoyably."

What then can friends at home do to help forward this work amongst their sons and brothers in the Far East? Contributions of money are not asked for this side of the work, for Englishmen abroad are able and willing to support their own clergy, and money subscribed at home is mainly devoted to work amongst Asiatics. But apart from money there is much that may be done to help, and that urgently requires to be done.

1. First and greatest is the need for prayer. We need to realize the conditions under which many of these men are living; the loneliness of a planter in an isolated district; the difficulties of a non-Christian environment, far from all the good influences of home; and the temptations that inevitably beset a solitary life. We can use frequently the prayer "For absent friends," or in words of our own remember them in constant intercession.

2. We must never let them feel that they are forgotten, but write often and regularly, so that they may know that they are never far from our thoughts. People living at home, with two, three, or four postal deliveries a day, do not realize sufficiently the hunger for letters from home that attacks the resident abroad, where mails arrive at best but once a week.

3. When a friend is going abroad his full name and address and, if possible, the name of the firm for which he is going to work should be sent to the chaplain of the district, so that he may find a welcome on entering his new life.

(By Bishop Selwyn).

O Lord our God, Who art in every place, from Whom no space or distance can ever separate us; we know that those who are absent from each other are still present with Thee, and we therefore pray Thee to have in Thy holy keeping those from whom we are now separated; and grant that both they and we, by drawing nearer to Thee, may be drawn nearer to each other, bound together by the unseen chain of Thy love, in the communion of Thy Spirit, and the holy fellowship of Thy saints, that whether or not we meet together again on earth, we may surely meet again at the resurrection of the just, and go in together to that house of many mansions, which Thou hast prepared for them that unfeignedly love Thee, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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